Sunday, August 26, 2012

For Neil

When my right index finger starts going numb, something that I've only experienced in the context of funerals, I know it's a serious thing. So it was when I heard the news that Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, died yesterday. While it's the sort of news I knew that I'd hear one day, for it to be extracted from that comfortably distant future and dropped into the present was a shock. You don't ever wake up and expect that particular day to be the Day.

But it was, and the man who took one small step forty-three years ago is gone. There are other moonwalkers, of course; Buzz Aldrin is still alive, still healthy, and still punching out moon landing deniers. Neil Armstrong was different, though--he was the first. First in a way that it's difficult to conceive of without some thought, first in a way that's utterly foreign to Earth.

Barring an ancient extraterrestrial scout mission or some previous technological species that's been obliterated from the fossil record, he was the first thinking being to step out among those rocks in the history of time. Not just the first man, not just the first human, but the first sapient being in all the universe.

The first, and he returned to Earth to live a modest life. He didn't allow his experience to go to his head. He didn't take advantage of his fame for political ends. He did things no one had ever done before, and as long as there are those who look up in wonder at that silver world in the sky, he will never be forgotten.

see you space cowboy...

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